The Chickens Have Come Home to Roost!

Published by Ayele Gelan on

In the middle of one night
Miss Clavel turned on the light
And said, “Something is not right!”
“Madeline,” by Ludwig Bemelmans, 1939
(As quoted by Ruth Marcus, Deputy editorial page editor, Washington Post, May 26, 2017)

I listened to Obboo Lemma Megarsa’s interview with VOA and felt exactly like Miss Clavel, except that I did not need to turn on the light because it was still early evening.

For many, Obboo Lemma’s interview simply confirmed a rumor that has been circulating for several months, regarding the rift created and then widened over time between the top two members of what once we used to affectionately call “Team Lemma”.  

Even then, many of us have remained skeptical, never taking that rumor seriously, thinking that could be some kind of political trickery, designed to fool the Oromo people.  For those of us who belonged to that group, the new development was a complete surprise. Obbo Lemma has proved us wrong.   

I have already read a few messages of apology on social media. I have to admit I owe an apology to Obboo Lemma too, I take this opportunity to say sorry for ever daring to doubt his integrity.

It is hard enough to experience betrayal at such a scale, the last thing he deserves was people doubting his honesty.  Many of us have been led ashtray because this day and age it is rare to find a politician who is governed by principles. Power has become everything.

In the past, we steadfastly remained hopeful that the ongoing reform would lead us somewhere although the road would be expected to be bumpy.  Many of us tried our level best to offer positive criticism so that PM Abiy’s administration would receive feedback and undertake corrective measures so that the time it would take for the people of Ethiopia to enjoy the fruit of democratic governance would not be protracted.

It seems we have reached a turning point, a milestone.  Clearly, something is not right.  But saying that is not enough.  We need to know what things have gone wrong.  It is time for stock-taking, and also the right moment to release viewpoints we have so far chosen to hold back.

“Team Lemma”

Thousands of Qeerroos and Qarrees, later joined by many other youth groups in other regions, sacrificed their precious lives and managed to oust the TPLF hegemony.  A progressive group within the OPDO, led by the then President of Oromia, Lemma Megersa, switched side and joined ranks with the protesters. How much resistance they were doing within the EPRDF has never been clear but they played a critical and decisive role, making the right decision at the right time and enabling what we then thought was a safe landing for the popular uprising. Team Lemma effectively received the baton from the youth, in return promising them that the causes for which the lives of their brethren perished would not be in vain.

The most astonishing thing about Team Lemma was this:  the team was equally popular all over the regions of Ethiopia and the rest of the world to more or less the same extent, although the architects, the leaders, and a larger proportions of its members came from the Oromo community.  

This was something unique and precious, unheard of in Ethiopian history.  It was an exceptionally opportune moment for Ethiopia to hold on to this achievement and progress to solidify unity among diverse community groups.  

Team Lemma was a god sent group, the kind of leaders for which Ethiopia has been waiting for centuries.  The significance of this development was very well recognized by Ethiopia’s wise elders like Professor Mesfin Weldemariam. For the first time in their history, all Ethiopians have had leaders whom everyone respected to equal extent. 

Ethiopians from all ethnic groups have had a group they would comfortably call “our leaders”, saying so in unison for the first time in their history.  This was highly significant!  Ethiopians have become truly optimistic, true Ethiopian renaissance was in the making.  

Wrong Turn

The seed of troubles for the current crisis was sown in PM Abiy’s inaugural speech back in March 2018.  He raised eyebrows of many observers by pitching the essence of his speech in sharp contrast to the spirit with which Team Lemma was operating. Team Lemma was all about forgetting the past and building a bright future for all Ethiopians. 

In sharp contrast, PM Abiy got himself obsessively engaged with praising Ethiopia’s controversial past history.  This was totally uncalled for.  Surely, he knew that by indulging himself in those controversial areas of Ethiopia’s history, he would end up raising hopes among certain communities, and upsetting those of others.  In so doing, that very speech instigated communities against each other, no matter how inadvertently that was.  That was a blow to Team Lemma spirit!

From that day onwards, PM Abiy got steadfastly stuck to his principles of relentlessly cherishing imperial Ethiopian sentiment, not just privately holding those viewpoints but publicly promoting and displaying them.  This was also meant progressively drifting away and abandoning other communities. Most importantly, and paradoxically, it was hopes of his own constituency that has been shattered. 

All along it was clear that from the very outset PM Abiy was being extremely insensitive to Oromo community feelings.  Also, this meant drifting away not only from his own constituency interest but also creating and widening gaps between himself and other members of Team Lemma. 

It appeared that PM Abiy rendered Team Lemma obsolete and focused on his own visibility and political ambitions.  The reform agenda, which was meant to be led through consensus among Team Lemma, was consolidated in the hand of PM Abiy.      

It sounds that right from the beginning when he started his journey to enter a freeway, PM Abiy took a wrong turn.  Except for himself, everybody in his constituency including his colleagues in Team Lemma driving along with him have noticed he has taken a wrong turn and given him signals to take the next exit and find his way back.

Unfortunately, however, PM Abiy did not seem to have heeded advises from his colleagues and community members. He took a fast lane and continued to drive to a destination of no interest, neither to his comrades nor to his community members.  

Road Map

After driving on that busy freeway for long distance, it seems PM Abiy safely moved to the road side, take a break and sketch a roadmap he called Medemer. Ever since he become PM of Ethiopia in March 2018, PM Abiy has been mentioning “medemer” now and then without bothering about its clarity.

This idea culminated in a book he published and recently launched. The status of medemer has been elevated so much that one would hesitate to say much about it by way of criticizing it, like we do to most other ordinary books, written and published by ordinary authors. It has been made to become a talking point among citizens and civil servants, almost a duty for every citizen to know it by heart.

This book has not been distributed in the part of the world I live and work. So, I refrain from commenting on its content in any detail.  I can hear avid enthusiasts of medemer and staunch supporters of PM Abiy chanting, “if you have not read it, do not say anything about it!”.  

My reply would be, “I do not have to read that book to make general remarks”.  There are certain things that I find deeply troubling about this book; particularly, the manner in which medemer is promoted and debated is rather scary. 

The other day, I was watching Fana, an Ethiopian TV channel. A journalist invited two individuals to discuss medemer. One was from PM office, apparently he was there to promote the book, and the other an academic.  The journalist asked a simple question: what if someone chose not to subscribe to the medemer philosophy?

The respondent was not prepared for this question so he was visibly showing some discomfort with handling this question. In the end, he muttered something like “given the medemer is so good and beneficial, it is impossible for anyone not to subscribe to it!” That is extremely worrying.  Clearly the discussant felt as if he was required critic a scripture.  

This may come across as a rather provocative remark but I hold a strong opinion that PM Amhed was not supposed to have the luxury to sit and write a book in the middle of this critical moment in Ethiopian history.  In human history, only a certain kind of leaders who have indulged to writing books in the middle of their rein.  These include Lennin, Mao, and Meles.  These groups of leaders are known for writing their books and using them as guidelines for themselves, their followers, and citizens at large.  

But they were not supposed to do that because there are others who could do that job rather effectively than those leaders.  After all, leaders are only individuals and their viewpoints can only be expressed as personal. The position they hold as leaders would not qualify them to become super humans who have the capacity to hold a view point representative of all individuals of the country they govern. 

If a leader must write a book, and provided that they have time for it, then that book can only be a private book to be sold in book stores so that people who are interested can buy and read like any other book on market. The last thing a leader can afford to do is to write a book and then tell the nation to buy, read and follow it as guidelines in their daily activities.

The extreme cases of Leninist or Maoist tradition aside, there is a tacit understanding on idea generation in most human civilizations.  Members of society can be roughly classified into four groups: leaders, intelligentsia, political activists, and ordinary citizens. 

Instead of trying the futile attempt to indulge in philosophy, political leaders can do a good job of listening to and garnering ideas generated by many intellectuals in different domain of expertise.

By bringing experts together, the leaders would create consensus and articulate them into guidelines and channel to different domains of governance. The leader would also use their charisma and amplify those ideas which are not necessarily generated by them. 

Activists would receive from the ideas from top leaders and then disseminate the ideas to grassroots, so that the general public would be aware and become conscious of national current affairs.  Otherwise, the general public should be left to engage in producting of goods and services and creating material wealth. 

In Ethiopian society, everybody tries to do something of everything but accomplishing none of those in the end.  Leaders claim to be both intellectuals and politicians at the same time. Since they claim to generate ideas, then it follows that they do not have to listen to experts.

It is this misguided viewpoint which has created a gulf between Ethiopia’s intellectuals and political leaders.  It seems the politicians would somehow feel uncomfortable with using someone else’s ideas. This is an extremely unhealthy approach to governance. 

The bottom-line is that the reason leaders should rely on experts or intellectuals in not so much that they lack intellectual capacity as such but simply because they do not have time to sit down and spend all the necessary time to disentangle complex relationships between socio-economic issues.

PM Abiy may claim he has done that job when he produced medemer. However, a host of relevant questions arise. 

First, surely the ideas contained in medemer cannot be better than the whole summation of ideas that could potentially be pulled together from all professors and intellectuals in Ethiopia’s higher learning institutions and elsewhere. 

Second, even if PM Abiy has done an extraordinary job of producing a masterpiece equaling what would be brought together from all intellectuals of Ethiopian origin, then PM Abiy would not still escape from the fact that he still wasted his time and tax payers money by choosing to write a book by way of generating ideas, instead of doing other more urgent duties of governance. 

Society is doubly charged, paying for PM Abiy’s time in office, as well as paying for intellectuals at universities and research institutions. 

Redemptive gestures?

There is no doubt that Team Lemma was not weakened that easily and rendered irrelevant over time.  There must have been some heated debates between PM Abiy and Obbo Lemma Megarsa and others.  It seems PM Abiy was not heeding to advices from his colleague, Lemma Megersa, who so selflessly passed over the Primiership seat to him. 

After bottling his grievances for so long, Obbo Lemma has chosen his moment to announce the rift between him and his longtime colleague. The abolition of ODP and the party merger to create Ethiopia’s prosperity party (EPP) has become a tipping point.

This has come a judgment day for PM Abiy’s administration.  The chickens have finally come home to roost. Whether or not his premiership would be redeemed will critically depend on PM Abiy’s humility to finally become a pragmatic leader, who no more subscribe to fate or destiny in his political future.  

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